Chabad celebrates its new home in Fair Lawn
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Chabad celebrates its new home in Fair Lawn

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Rabbi Levi and Leah Neubort, Fair Lawn Deputy Mayor Lisa Swain, and Councilman Edward Trawinski cut the ribbon on Anshei Lubavitch’s new center in Fair Lawn on Sunday.

The building that formerly housed Temple Avoda in Fair Lawn surged with new life on Sunday as more than 300 people celebrated Anshei Lubavitch’s new home.

The Chabad center’s director, Rabbi Levi Neubort, led a procession of Torahs from the organization’s original building across the street and into a newly built aaron kodesh, holy ark, in the remodeled facility at 10-10 Plaza Road. Dancing filled the streets and even the police officers there to direct traffic were getting into the groove, Neubort said.

“It was really, really wonderful,” he said. “The spirit was very palpable.”

The Chabad organization, housed across the street from the former Temple Avoda, bought the building on Feb. 13 for $1.7 million after it merged with Temple Sholom in River Edge last year to become Temple Avodat Shalom. Increased enrollment in Chabad’s nursery school program and summer camp spurred Neubort to expand the organization’s grounds. Last year the preschool had 90 children enrolled while this year, Neubort said, its student body of 149 will be housed in the two buildings. Weekly Shabbat services draw about 100 people, he added, while major programs draw more than 300.

Renovations began shortly after the purchase and by July, Chabad was using both buildings for the 179 children in its summer camp.

“Full summer camp and full preschool is a dream come true,” he said. “When you open a new building you imagine it’ll take many months or years to fill it to capacity and already we’re full.”

The building’s exterior has not yet been changed, but the 11,000 square feet inside have been renovated to fit six classrooms, an indoor mini-gym, administrative offices, and the sanctuary, which can hold more than 300 people.

In addition to the purchase price – which went toward Avodat Shalom’s building fund – renovations so far have totaled approximately $750,000. Neubort expects those costs to reach more than $1 million once the outside and grounds work are completed. To finance the work, Anshei Lubavitch took out a $1,360,000 mortgage from Valley National Bank. Given the dismal real estate market at the time, Chabad had to put down $2 collateral for every $1 it borrowed.

Neubort took out mortgages on its original property at 8-09 Plaza Road and the house next door, which Chabad had bought a few years earlier. In addition, seven families stepped forward and put up their homes as collateral for the loan. “It’s something that is tremendous,” Neubort said. “It means they believe in me, they believe in the organization, [and] they believe in the cause.”

Beyond the mortgage, the economy has put a damper on Anshei Lubavitch’s fund-raising. The organization received two separate donations of $54,000, but the rest of its contributions have been much smaller. “It’s very difficult to raise funds in this climate,” Neubort said. “We’ve gotten a lot of small money from a lot of people.”

Still, Neubort and Anshei Lubavitch’s supporters were confident that the organization would receive the funds it needs, based on the enrollment numbers.

“The rabbi’s very committed to the belief that if it needs to be done, it will be done,” said Scott Lippe of Fair Lawn. “The proof is in the success that we’ve experienced in being able to provide the services with the community. People are voting with their feet.”

Avi Kuperberg called the entire progression of events culminating in Sunday’s grand opening “miraculous.” He hoped that people would see Neubort’s accomplishments and gain the confidence to donate.

“When he started to talk about [expanding] years ago, you would have thought it was a pipedream,” said Kuperberg. “It really shows that a man with a vision can be successful.”

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